A New Carrier Strike Group Staff for Warfighting and Warfighters

CNO’s Design Week

By Capt. Bill Shafley


 The Chief of Naval Operations recently released FRAGO 01/2019, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. The CNO charged senior leaders to simplify their focus. Warfighting, the Warfighter, and the Future Navy are its tenets. At the nexus of these tenets rests the staff of the Carrier Strike Group, where this staff employs the combat power of the premier maneuver arm of the Fleet Commander, the Carrier Strike Group (CSG). To master fleet-level warfare and leverage the power of the integrated fleet as the CNO urges, this staff must be organized, manned, and educated for the complexity of the high-end fight.

The CSG Staff

The CSG staff could benefit from an overhaul. The complexity of the future fight in terms of surveillance, maneuver, and fires call for a level of synchronization and expertise in planning that the current staff is unprepared for. This organization violates the warfare principles of simplicity and unity of effort. The Destroyer Squadron staff, Carrier Air Wing staff, and the niche capability of air defense expertise in the CSG’s resident cruiser provide some hedge against those capability gaps. Yet that expertise comes with a tax of an additional layer of command that adds little tactical value. Every platform in the Carrier Strike Group is multi-mission capable. A destroyer commander has air defense responsibilities to provide the air defense commander. She also has responsibilities as the strike commander and the sea combat commander. Experts in tactics, techniques, and procedures are part of their planning and watch teams. All the while the CSG commander and his staff are inundated with up to three different commander’s views and requirements for the accomplishment of a single mission. This distracts from warfighting. The Composite Warfare Commander (CWC) structure is fit for purpose as a way to “fight a strike group.” But as a manner of planning for combined and coordinated operations, standing warfare commanders and their staffs may be an artifact of the past.

The amount of warfare areas that must be managed and the density in which they can present in any given tactical scenario require the logical organization of the CWC construct. The point is not to argue that the CWC in execution is flawed. Any given operation requires a C2 structure and a doctrinal manner in which to conduct key tasks in the accomplishment of a mission. As the majority of the units in a CSG (from aircraft to surface ships) are multi-role, multi-function and task organized as such, it may be time to leave the CWC organization to the execution of missions and tasks not as a manner in which to “staff” operations at sea.

If the CSG in a wartime environment is the primary maneuver arm of a fleet-level engagement, the CSG staff in its current organizational construct may not be robust enough in manning and experience to integrate at the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC) level. The Fleet staff is organized in a MOC-MHQ construct. It is designed to link into the theater level where campaigning is the order of the day, and operational art (the sequencing of operations in time, space, and force) is truly practiced. A CSG staff is nowhere near organized in the same manner. It may become quickly overwhelmed as the pace and density of operations increases. Without augments, its ability to stay ahead of the Fleet’s fight, synchronize at the operational level of war, or take advantage of tactical opportunity may be overcome.

Today the CWC is the organizing principle behind CSG operations. Common resources are “coordinated” and warfare areas are “commanded.” The CWC organization doesn’t delineate who is responsible for maneuvering the force into position to achieve effect. The CWC organization doesn’t clearly delineate who is responsible for coordinating fires on an objective area and simultaneously protect the carrier from multiple threats in multiple domains. Current practice would suggest this is achieved through warfare commanders working through warfare coordinators in supporting and supported roles. The CSG staff would look for ways to salami slice tasks to the IAMDC, the SCC, the IWC, and CAG. But those structures matter little at echelons above the CSG where in the future fight close coordination will be necessary for managing and resourcing the high-end fight. These stovepipes create missed opportunities for synergy and potentially leave valuable tactical and operational questions unexplored.


The premise behind a new organizational framework lies in the notion that planning for and conducting operations is central. Operations consume readiness and finite resources provided from a common pool. Radar resources, aircraft, fires, intelligence, voice and data communication are necessary components required to place a combat ready, protected Carrier Strike Group in position to achieve an effect. To enable mission command, the commander must have a staff that can translate his understanding of the operational environment and the theory of the fight into actionable orders and tasks across the warfighting functions that can be assessed to ensure mission accomplishment. A new structure for a CSG staff may hold the solution.

A fresh structure should make the warfare commanders and their staffs dual-hatted. Upon completion of the maintenance and basic phases at the unit level, the Air Wing, Destroyer Squadron, and Senior Information Warfare Officer assume the duties as one of four Deputy Commander billets: Deputy Commander for Operations, Deputy Commander for Readiness, and Deputy Commander for Support. The Senior Warfare Commander assumes duties as the Chief of Staff. The Cruiser and CVN COs retain duties as unit Commanding Officers. The squadron and wing staffs round out the existing CSG staff with subject matter tactical, technical, and planning expertise.

The Deputy Commander for Operations leads a team of watchstanders and planners across multiple disciplines to manage the current fight, plan for tomorrow’s fight, and resource the plans of the more distant future. This staff section is the engine that affords the CSG commander the space to execute the mission at hand. It is manned by cells organized around the joint warfighting functions of maneuver, fires, sustainment, protection, and ISR. The operations team is organized along the COPS, FOPS, and plans construct. It is structured to support the Main and Future Planning Groups and staff TFCC, Sea Combat, IAMD, Strike Cell, and Supplot. The COPS, FOPS, and Plans teams are lead by O5 officers with command and/or significant aircraft type, model, and series experience. The team has Weapons and Tactics Instructors from all the communities and advanced trained operational planners. These subject matter experts form the backbone of a planning team has the capability to synchronize resources in time and space employed in a tactically relevant manner.

The Deputy Commander for Readiness leads a team of operators and logisticians charged with ensuring the Carrier Strike Group’s operational reach is effectively sustained to see mission accomplishment through. The readiness team takes a similar approach to the operations team. It is tasked to look at sustainment across platforms, sources of supply, and time horizons. It has a COPS and FOPS team that support the operational tasking framework described above. These readiness cells are staffed with platform-familiar operators and subject matter experts that understand the technologically advanced systems the CSG takes into combat. The team is also manned with the traditional N1 personnel team and the Senior Medical Officer. These functions serve to ensure that the force is manned and cared through steady state operations and in the event of casualties. The readiness team is staffed with temporary TYCOM liaisons that work hand-in-hand with the strike group maintenance officer for emergent and planned mid-deployment voyage repairs. The strike group’s safety and standards officer is also a part of this team and is charged with maintaining operational safety programs and standards keeping.

There are two remaining staff functions in this plussed-up Carrier Strike Group staff. The Deputy Commander for Support leads a team of subject matter experts among the warfighting functions that provide support for operations and readiness. These subject matter experts include Strike Warfare, Ballistic Missile Defense, Anti-Terrorism, and Force Protection. The senior intelligence officer, the senior communicator, and cryptologist join this team. This team also has a tactical development cell charged with forecasting areas for tactical improvement. The strike group training officer is assigned to this staff section and is charged with maintaining a cadre of trained watchstanders, planners, and subject matter experts during the off-cycle. The training officer also introduces and inculcates a formalized after action review process that feeds back to the team lessons learned to foster continuous learning and trend spotting.

The staff is rounded out by the command group. The flag secretary serves as the staff XO. The flag LT, flag writer, and flag mess along with the judge advocate, chaplain and public affairs officer round out this team. The staff XO reports to the chief of staff as his principal assistant. The flag XO maintains the staff tasker list and staffs all routine CDR-level communication up echelon. The chief of staff is the designated deputy CSG commander.


This new staff organization is designed for high-end operations at-sea. It is an operations-centric organization that is designed to take advantage of maneuver and disaggregation to achieve effects. It blends the subject matter expertise of the Navy’s best junior tacticians and planners with its most experienced commanders. It flattens command and control within the strike group in a manner that allows for true task organization, mission command, and recognizes the multi-mission nature of our platforms. This staff will be robust enough to take full advantage of developing over-the-horizon weapons and surveillance technologies. Finally, it creates a staff where the CSG plans for and executes strike group operations holistically without the lenses of the air wing, the boat, and the small-boys. Warfighting functions break down the current community barriers and make operations truly agnostic. To win in the high-end fight requires a staff structure that puts its best and brightest in a position to produce, execute and assess mission orders. This new structure provides an option.

Captain Bill Shafley is a career Surface Warfare Officer and currently serves as the Commodore, Destroyer Squadron 26 and Sea Combat Commander for Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. He has served on both coasts and overseas in Asia and Europe. He is a graduate of the Naval War College’s Advanced Strategy Program and a designated Naval Strategist. These views are presented in a personal capacity.

Featured Image: Air traffic controllers assigned to the carrier air traffic control center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman keep a close watch on flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo/Seaman Ryan McLearnon)

4 thoughts on “A New Carrier Strike Group Staff for Warfighting and Warfighters”

  1. Dear Lord how I hate that jargon “warfighter.” I would rather it was peacemaker. I see nothing in the Beatitudes of the Gospels on “Blessed are the warmakers.” Just because war is more the norm (especially nowadays) than peace, does not make celebrating it and being obsessed with it the right course in terms of our mental modeling.

    CDR John T. Kuehn, USN (retired), Ph.D.
    Professor of Military History, US Army Command and General Staff College
    The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

  2. I recognize most of acronyms thrown around, but I can’t visualize how this new staff construct would look:
    – Would it be bigger/smaller/flatter/taller than the current staff(s)?
    – Are people coming or going and where to and from?
    – Does this remodel demand a lot of rare personnel (WTIs, post-command O5s and O6s) from a Navy that can’t spare them?

    If the idea is to strip CAG, DESRON, etc down to admin-only commanders and move all CWC responsibilities and tactical staff to the CSG, lets say that, and spend the rest of the article talking about the details and second-order ramifications of all these changes.

  3. That’s something to think about… AND… the Navy needs to get out of the Sloganology mode and put the what into the “it(s)” and the Who into the “They”… Concepts, CONOPS, operating concepts and operational concepts need to give an audience something to understand in-order to accomplish a task (build a weapon system or achieve a mission) or achieve an end-state. As I was always reminded by my Army buds… a well written and understandable commanders intent is golden. As I learned during my short tenure as Chairman, Joint Military Operations Department at the Naval War College,SWOS do not know how to write, Slogans will not do it.

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